Riders and Bombers shook hands, gesture was a sign of CFLPA unity

The CFL’s collective bargaining agreement won’t expire until just before the 2019 season, but there’s no doubt what the CFL Players’ Association’s top priority will be when talks begin on a new deal.

Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers players shook hands prior to Sunday’s game at Mosaic Stadium. Union executive director Brian Ramsay said the gesture was a sign of unity regarding what will be the union’s top priority in contract negotiations _ improved player safety.

“It was meant to be, and I hope it was received as such, as a subtle but powerful way to show the solidarity and unity that exists within our membership,” Ramsay said Tuesday. “Three minutes later, the players went to battle against each other but they’re very much aware we’re working together on a number of issues.

“It wasn’t meant to disrupt the game. It was meant as a very subtle gesture that we’re unified as a group.”

Ramsay was emphatic the move wasn’t an orchestrated pre-emptive strike by the union.

“It wasn’t anything to even initiate a conversation,” Ramsay said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve officially started talks nor is that a sign to engage it.

“What the players said to each other was, ‘Happy Labour Day.”’

The CFLPA plans to seek reduced contact during practices to better protect players from brain injuries and improve their safety during games. The union would also like the 12-month maximum rehabilitation time for injured players increased because it feels the current mandate doesn’t always allow for sufficient recovery.

Contract talks between the CFL and CFLPA were tumultuous in 2014. Negotiations broke down several times and there was a threat of a players’ strike before the two sides hammered out a five-year deal that boosted the salary cap from $4.4 million to $5 million, with annual $50,000 increases over the life of the agreement.

The CFL – under then-commissioner Mark Cohon – got a major concession from the union on the gross revenue formula that would trigger the renegotiation of the cap or entire collective agreement. The players, who initially wanted the deal to include revenue sharing, had called for the cap or entire agreement to be renegotiated if league revenues increased by more than $18 million – excluding the Grey Cup – in the third year of the deal.

The CFL wanted that figure to be $27 million and the union ultimately agreed.

However, there’s a real sense of optimism this time around because new CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie is not only a former player but also spent time as the CFLPA’s secretary.

“You can’t help but think there has to be a sense of optimism when you’re going to discuss with somebody who’s not only been in the players’ shoes but also been on the players’ association side,” Ramsay said. “Someone who has an understanding like that, that can hopefully only help.”

In the meantime, though, Ramsay expects there will be more gestures of unity among CFL players.

“It’s not going to be every game,” he said. “But I think it’s a positive thing for the game when the players are that engaged and unified.”